UNEMPLOYMENT: The Wisconsin Way
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”Desmond Tutu
A Timeline of Wisconsin’s Unemployment/Economic Response to the Pandemic
January 31, 2020
POTUS declares a National Health Crisis based on data and concerns amid news and the spread of coronavirus (covid-19)
March 18, 2020
Gov. Evers puts the Safer-At-Home order into effect.
March 21, 2020
Gov. Evers sends proposed $700 million package to GOP legislative leaders which included suspension of the one-week waiting period.
March 27, 2020
POTUS signs the Cares Act into law – States are informed that funding will be available after each state initiates and accepts the conditions by creating and implementing their own laws indicating such things ASAP. This message is also given with a deadline for certain tasks related to funding sources.
March 29, 2020
First eligible week of FPUC begins
April 9, 2020
DWD releases memo about receiving unprecedented amount of calls. Steps are taken to transfer state employees, DWD employees, hire additional employees and allocate all resources to call centers.
April 12, 2020
First week other states begin paying FPUC payments to claimants.
April 13, 2020
DWD quietly announces that they will begin accepting applications through their online portal for the PUA program at 11am on April 21st.
April 13, 2020
Senate calls session to discuss and vote on proposals for Act 185. The delay in calling this session was due to the addition of several bills on both the republican and democratic side that had little to no relevance to the actual situation. Evers was hesitant to sign the bill as-is.
April 15, 2020
Gov. Evers signs Act 185 into law. Wisconsin can now process applications and payments for the FPUC, PUA, and PEUC programs that are federally funded. However, due to waiting 3 weeks before calling a session to vote on the proposal, the deadline for a federal grant of $25 million to cover a portion of the one-week suspension waiver was forfeited and became an expense of the state.
April 16, 2020
DWD issues release with creative headline “Wisconsin Unemployment Rate at 3.4 in March, Impact of COVID-19 Pandemic Yet to Emerge in Wisconsin Jobs Data”. https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/news/2020/unemployment/200416-march-state.pdf
April 16, 2020
Gov. Evers issues an order that extends the Safer At Home order to May 26, 2020.
April 20, 2020
Legislative staffers contact DWD Legislative Liaison John Keckhaver and ask for information regarding constituent inquires surrounding SSDI and PUA benefits. The guidelines are broad and there is confusion as to how these programs will be interpreted. John responds and states they are getting an increase in questions as well and have reached out to the DOL. An email string continues and after an update on DOL guidelines in posted, the question is re-posed by the staffers. The staffers interpretation is offered as “the guidelines are silent, so the state law should be applied”. Keckhaver forwards this interpretation on to the leadership and Director of Adjudication, Amy Banicki, confirms that is the official interpretation of the DWD on SSDI claimants being ineligible for PUA benefits.
April 21, 2020
DWD begins accepting applications at 11am for the PUA program. The system, while crashing throughout the day, did accept approximately 17,000 applications in total.
April 27, 2020
Wisconsin become the last state to begin making FPUC payments to eligible claimants.
April 27, 2020
1:30pm – Director of Adjudication, Amy Banicki, emails Asst. Deputy Sec. of DWD Danielle Williams and states she may have misspoke regarding SSDI and PUA – “they may be eligible for PUA” . . .
1:36pm – Banicki again emails Williams and reverses course stating “I was right with my first answer – they would not be eligible.”
April 29, 2020
The email string from April 20th continues when legislative staffer Margit Kelley again reaches out to the DWD’s Legislative Liaison John Keckhaver after an update on DOL guidelines is posted, the question is re-posed by the staffers. The staffers interpretation is offered as “the guidelines are silent, so the state law should be applied”. Keckhaver forwards this interpretation on to the leadership and Director of Adjudication, Amy Banicki, confirms that is the official interpretation of the DWD on SSDI claimants being ineligible for PUA benefits. Banicki cites the DUA regulations as well in the official interpretations that have guided the determination on ineligibility for SSDI recipients. Ultimately it is agreed that the CARES Act is silent on the issues and the DUA is the ruling law to follow.
April 29, 2020
DOL announces that all states are now paying FPUC.
May 1, 2020
DWD announces that in the process of paying FPUC a “technological malfunction” caused an overpayment/underpayment error that resulted in the misallocation of an unidentified amount overnight on 4/27. This issue led to a Legislative Audit and as of July 20, 2020 thousands of claimants had still not been paid their FPUC payments that were part of the “malfunction”.
May 7, 2020
DWD announces that if the current trend of UI claims continues, the UI Trust Fund will be depleted by October 2020.
May 13, 2020
Supreme Court overrules Safer At Home order. However, some municipalities chose to uphold the order until May 26th.
May 15, 2020
DWD announces contracts with vendors: Aloricia, Nelnet, and Beyond Vision to assist in both call center and adjudication. The combination of these vendors will add approximately 600 staff members.
May 19, 2020
DWD announces that out of 1.4 million claims totaling $1.1 billion that the department has paid out since March 15, the DWD has successfully flagged 171 claims as fraud worth about $26,000 and prevented another 342 claims from processing at all.
May 23, 2020
The Wisconsin Unemployment Support Group releases a press release and petition demanding action, transparency, and answers in regards to the silence, lack of payment, and the deception coming out of the UI division of the DWD. These documents are sent too the media, posted online, and passed on to legislatures around the state. The spread of these demands and statements led to the expansion of the support group and recognition of an avenue of support and advocacy available by some of the groups administrative members (Ashley Green, Brett Lipshutz, and Chenon Times-Rainwater).
May 24, 2020
The Wisconsin Unemployment Support Group reaches 1700 members.
May 25, 2020
George Floyd is murdered while in the custody of the Minneapolis, MN police department. The murder is captured live, polarizes the world, and launces a global demand for change and accountability in police brutality and the recognition of black lives. This significant moment in our world history is pertinent to this timeline because at a time when protesting is the best avenue for change, protesting became an avenue to express oppression, built up frustration, and retaliation. There is no judgement here on this topic. All lives have purpose, meaning, and the right to exist. No one person should be kept from living simply because of another’s personal feelings, miseducation, bigotry, or inability to comprehend cultural and racial difference. These moments compounded a crisis upon a crisis and required every action step by those waiting for benefits to be calculated, safe, and respectful, but still loud enough to be heard.
May 25, 2020
Claimants eligible for PEUC begin to fall out of the Unemployment numbers in mass as the program is not available yet and these claimants start the waiting clock all over again. The DWD has no response as to when this program will start. This exodus of filers returning to pending status negatively affects the unemployment rate for the coming months because they can’t be counted due to the inability to file weekly claims.
May 26, 2020
Safer at home order expires.
May 27, 2020
DWD releases an statement about the difficulties they are experiencing with understanding the PUA program and how to not only program it, but implement it throughout the existing processing protocols. This particular statement, looking back, is an indicator of how the adjudication department was struggling to align the PUA guidelines with their modus operandi. They simply couldn’t find the ways to delay the claims with issues typically used because the program was designed to approve everyone Reg UI could not. So, they needed to keep most claims holding in Reg UI in order to slow the system down long enough to find errors and windows of opportunity for denials.
May 27, 2020
DWD Sec. Caleb Frostman takes the hot seat at a Senate Regulatory committee meeting and lies for an extended about of time. The lies and wraparound statements are so ridiculous that you wonder if he actually ever steps foot in the building that pays him upwards of $150k a year to do this job. He blames the technology, he blames the influx of claims, he blames his staffing issues, he blames new programs. He does everything but blame his mami and his brother. Frostman then goes on to say that the PUA program would be up and running by June 1st, PEUC would be programmed beginning June 1st, the PUA hotline would be available June 1st, Christ would be coming back June 1st, and Santa would visit on June 1st as well. Have you caught the theme? Oh yeah . . . what he NEVER actually says is that June 1st is the following Monday, only five days away and absolutely impossible for his list of to-do’s.
May 28, 2020
Director of Adjudication Amy Banicki emails Department of Labor, Region 5 Liaison for DWD Jeff Haluska. Haluska is the liaison solely Reg UI matters. Banicki seeks clarification on issues regarding disqualifying claimants who receive SSDI and are applying for PUA. Banicki notes that DWD Sec. Frostmans’ interpretation of the PUA guidelines and the superseding DUA regulations lead to directives that make SSDI recipients eligible for PUA benefits regardless of state law 108.04 (12)(f).
May 29, 2020
Department of Labor Liason Jeff Haluska confirms, through email, his opinion with Amy Banicki and Danielle Williams, (which is then forwarded to DWD leadership), that SSDI recipients, pursuant to CARES Act, PUA guidelines, and DUA regulations, are not eligible for benefits in the state of Wisconsin.
June 1, 2020
Nothing. Nothing happens at all. No hotline is launched.
June 2, 2020
PUA Hotline goes live. What we later learn is that Beyond Vision is the vendor, based out of Milwaukee. They are a private business that has existed for over 100 years with an amazing mission to provide meaningful and advanced job opportunities for visually impaired individuals. While this offers no bearing on the abilities of the call center staff that took our calls, they are at no fault and were put in an awful situation. They were given an extremely limited scope of information to share that was severely based on the guidelines for the PUA program that are available on both the DOL and DWD websites. The specialist that took the calls could only answer with the information from the websites and only had two elements of information regarding a claimants claim: if it was received and if documents had been attached. Often that information was not conveyed correctly, again, at no fault of the specialist. These employees were hired to take calls and provide valuable information to claimants that didn’t understand the program.
Unfortunately, the PUA hotline was sold to claimants as the ONLY method of communication between themselves and the DWD. This brought confusion, frustration, and many many calls that did not end well. No one deserved that and neither party should have been in that situation.
June 2, 2020
The Wisconsin Unemployment Support Group issues a statement to the media announcing that Speaker Robin Vos can call a Special Session and seek temporary changes to expedite processing and alleviate barriers to get claims paid. Claimants need their funds and at this point, the full understanding of who and what was in the way was unclear to many people involved in the system as claimants, media, etc. This media blast included twitter, facebook, email, etc. The release also called for a protest at Speaker Vos’s home on June 6th to impress upon him the urgency at which our group would act to ensure he knew we were serious and not going away.
June 3, 2020
Sec. Frostman sends an email to Jeff Haluska seeking clarification regarding his May 29th opinion to Amy Banicki regarding SSDI recipients being ineligible for PUA benefits. Frostman believes his interpretation of both the PUA and DUA regulations substantiates claimants inquiries for SSDI recipients to qualify for PUA benefits.
June 5, 2020
DWD announces that the number of calls coming into the call centers has gone down and the wait times have decreased in the ques. This is due to the addition of vendors coming on board, namely Alorica. The DWD also notes the Nelnet has not come on board as of yet, but do have a number of employee’s in training and should be live toward the end of June with up to 40 adjudicators.
At this time the number of complaints regarding call center specialists increases significantly. The comments include rude specialists, background noise from at-home workers, hang ups, repeated lies, call backs scheduled that never occur, etc.
June 6, 2020
Protest at Speaker Robin Vos’s house to show that his action and support is needed to get claimants their benefits. Our elected officials need to work for their constituents, not for their own interests and campaigns for future elevated offices. This protest also included a virtual protest of twitter blasts, Facebook blasts, and all out media warfare to highlight that claimants would not stand silent and that leaders who had the power to make change could and should use that power to help their constituents, not just “hear” their stories.
June 9, 2020
Sec. Frostman, anxious for a response and for another viewpoint, emails National Sec. of Labor Eugen Scalia regarding the issues of SSDI eligibility for PUA applicants.
June 10, 2020
Eviction moratorium ends, and regardless of programs Governor Evers has thrown at the issue (ie CARES Act dollars and half-assed housing assistance programs with no plans and no leaders), landlords line up to file evictions around the state. Evictions continue to soar without ceasing as the programs slowly launch and coincidently deny applicants who begin to receive benefits, but are 2-3 months behind on all bills and desperately need to prepare for the bottom to fall out again.
June 15, 2020
DWD releases a report announcing the number of applications for PUA was previously misrepresented and now only represented applications completed. This is one of the things even released about the PUA program in terms of data on a weekly basis, or ever, actually. The DWD does not include PUA in its weekly claims counts, unique claimants, or denials, and in processing. This skews the data and leads to a misrepresentation of what the unemployment landscape of Wisconsin really is.
June 19, 2020
Through announcements on the DWD claimant portal and notification from claims specialist hundreds of claimants are informed of a new timeframe for wait periods:
Reg UI – up to 30 day wait PEUC – 30 day for program to launch PUA – 90 days (up from the original 30 days on 4/21, then 60 days on 5/23)
June 22, 2020
Wisconsin Unemployment Support Group Pre-Releases documentation to select Senators in regards to questionable reporting on behalf of the DWD to the Department of Labor. The reporting questions PUA specifically and raises doubt in the area of reimbursements and timelines that do not match reporting released to Wisconsinites. This release leads to an official complaint lodged with the Legislative Bureau for Auditing.
We would like to note that while the numbers still do not have accuracy, there has been clarification on the DWD’s misunderstanding of the term “continued claims”. That misunderstanding could lead to some of the difference in reporting. However, our investigatory work did and continues to uncover in accuracies in reporting and intentional manipulations of data to confuse and mislead the public and officials in the true crisis we are facing.
June 24, 2020
Wisconsin Unemployment Support Group released information statewide regarding multiple issues with the DWD: questionable reporting, vendor issues, and a solution to the backlog.
June 24, 2020
Out of NOWHERE the DWD announces that claimants waiting for PEUC are now able to enter the portal and apply.
July 8, 2020
Republicans break their silence with a news conference parading themselves in front of a stage set with the capital as the backdrop. They tell stories of woe, but not theirs, stories of their constituents. This isn’t a new song and dance. This is the Rep and Dem way here in Wisconsin. They don’t allow the wounded and oppressed to speak for themselves, they might not present well. So they clean it up a bit. Along with these stories they announce their proposals to address the backlog of claims at the DWD and a solution to, not really clear the claims, but to offer relief to those that have been waiting for extended periods of time.
The proposal is a loan program that, over the next few days gains a bit more teeth as information is released. But in all honesty, they didn’t plan well and really just slapped it together and said Evers, you have CARES Act money, you should spend it on this, we won’t tell you exactly how, but we are going to announce it so you have to DO SOMETHING or look like a fool. At this point, I don’t think Evers gives a crap about looking like a fool. Actually, that may just be his look.
This document below is actually the only REAL documentation I’ve been able to locate on this Forgivable Loan Program. From my research, it’s dead in the water anyway because you can’t disburse any funds that would be or are intended to be for federal programs (ie FPUC, PEUC, or PUA) prior to processing the claim.
July 14, 2020
Governor Evers breaks his silence and comments to journalist Amy Reid that the Republican proposal “I view it as somewhat of a political stunt,” Evers said. “I don’t quite know how we’re going to do it any faster using CARES Act, it’s not as if we have a list of 300 thousand people, suddenly we’re just going to say, ok we’re going to make a guess as to if you’re actually eligible, we’ll send out a bunch of money.”
July 16, 2020
Wisconsin Democrats release their “Package” of bills to address the unemployment crisis. The package contains 8 bills uniquely appropriated for UI, the other 100+ have nothing to do with it. Please refer to the podcast “The Help” for a great explanation of this bullshit package and how I really feel about it.
July 16, 2020
DWD releases an unemployment rate of 8.5%. They do NOT explain that this number reflects activity in late may and leading into June and mid June. These numbers routinely reflect activity 30-45 prior to the release date. When compared to the actual time frame this number represents there are factors that can justify this number. The state was reopening and thousands of claimants fell off of the unemployment count as they ran out of eligible weeks and awaited the start of the PEUC program. Those factors alone would have affected the number significantly.
July 16, 2020
Governor Evers announces reassigning 100 state employees to the DWD-Unemployment Division to assist in clearing the claims and addressing the growing backlog.
July 20, 2020
Senate begins discussions on both the HERO’s and HEAL’s Act’s.
July 24, 2020
Wisconsin Utility moratorium extended to September 1, 2020.
July 25, 2020
The final day of eligibility for the FPUC program.
July 27, 2020
DWD Sec. Caleb Frostman receives confirmation from US Department of Labor Asst. Secretary for Employment and Training John Pallasch. In the letter Asst. Sec. Pallasch confirms Sec. Frostman’s interpretation of the DUA regulations applicability to PUA applicants that also receive SSDI in coordination to Wisconsin state law. In conclusion, it was determined that SSDI recipients are eligible and should, as quickly as possible be receiving benefits from the PUA program.
July 30, 2020
The Senate, after failing to come to an agreement on an FPUC extension that would at least prevent the benefit from having a gap during negotiations, walks away from the table and takes a three day weekend. Negations over the new Covid funding will resume August 3.
July 29, 2020
Due to record cases and deaths within the State of Wisconsin and the US, Governor Evers issues an executive order for a statewide mask mandate to go into effect on Saturday August 1, 2020. This mandate ironically moves the stale Republicans to action and they rumble about coming to session to repeal the mandate. Please note, these lawmakers have not been to the office in four months to do ANY work. In fact, when asked to call a session to address unemployment issues, they did not just rebuff the idea, they ignored it until protestors showed up on their lawns.
I’m not done though, the Democrats don’t get to walk away from this, because their hands are not tied. Governor Evers could have issued executive orders regarding UI, right? He could have called special sessions, right? Democrats could have gathered supporters among lawmakers and called an extraordinary session, right?
NOBODY is innocent. NO ONE has done their job here. NOT ONE of them should be trusted to do the right thing.
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